This new independent in St. Petersburg shines more than it disappoints, with smart service and a varied menu from po' boys to pasta to fancier fare.
By CHRIS SHERMAN
Published November 4, 2004
[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Sunshine City Grill offers a short but wide menu selection, including meatloaf, cheeseburgers, filet mignon and caramelized shrimp and scallops.
ST. PETERSBURG - The exterior of Sunshine City Grill isn't much to look at with its small windows and the remnants of the red tile pagoda left from its days as Great Wall, a favorite spot in Fourth Street's Chinese lineup of old.
Since the invasion by Outback, Panera, Starbucks and other brand-name joints up and down Fourth, this stretch hasn't seen many new independents. Yet the location is right for what Reece Youmans wants: a neighborhood place with yupscale comforts that swing from meatloaf and po' boys to shrimp in brandy and risotto.
A bar and grill for millennial Fourth Streeters is in range for Youmans, a restaurant veteran most recently with Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville chain. In its first month, Sunshine City has already drawn a large enough crowd of locals to show that the hard-edged new space will eventually need baffling to bring down the noise level.
Step inside, and you'll find the place surprisingly clean and open, with a smart staff and big reprints of St. Pete in its pastel-tinted glory. The menu is short but wide, packing familiar burger and grouper with fashionable pasta and panini.
What's most encouraging are handmade touches showing that even a tavern kitchen knows and cares about cooking, especially about my favorites. Like potato chips - they make them fresh daily (the bleu cheese dip is a bit pasty) - and roasted potato wedges, roasted long enough to almost caramelize.
Then there were the shrimp on the po' boy, a good dozen, lightly hand-battered and quickly fried. More places should realize that fried seafood sandwiches are worth doing right. Sunshine also does well by roasted chicken. It's a global staple in bistros and pollo dorado joints; I'm glad to find it on a neighborhood menu at $11. For more luxe on the plate, try shrimp and scallops dolled up with brandy cream.
Even the dreaded veggie medley gets attention: Vegetables are freshly peeled and sliced, and yellow carrots (!!!!!) are in the mix. They all need to be cooked more evenly, but it's a step in the right direction. A few other dishes need work. Meatloaf didn't survive reheating, risotto was soggy and filet mignon is rather ordinary for the only steak.
Also the kitchen could have more fun with specials: nuggets of black grouper were fresh and crunchy, but fried finger food starters don't seem too special.
The colossal chocolate cake made on premises is, however, a most black devils' food cemented with thick bittersweet fudge.
That shows me already that a young restaurant cares about food as much as concept and should be encouraged to keep trying.